No. 2 Ohio State beats No. 5 Notre Dame

No. 2 Ohio State scored its fewest points since 2018 in a 21-10 win over No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday night.

The Buckeyes’ towering offense was slowed by an excellent Notre Dame gameplan and an injury to star Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But Ohio State had enough to get the job done after preseason Heisman favorite CJ Stroud hit Xavier Johnson for a 24-yard TD with 17 seconds left in the third quarter. The catch was Johnson’s first collegiate TD.

Ohio State took a 7-3 lead at Notre Dame in the first quarter when Stroud hit Emeka Egbuka for a 31-yard TD. But Notre Dame drove 87 yards on 10 plays early in the second quarter and took a 10-7 halftime lead after a missed Ohio field goal in the waning seconds of the second quarter.

Smith-Njigba entered 2022 as one of the best receivers in the country after posting over 300 receiving yards in a Rose Bowl win over Utah. But he appeared to injure his left leg as he faced awkward tackles early in the first quarter and saw limited playing time the rest of the half. Smith Njigba then spent the second half on the sidelines after recording just two catches for three yards.

The Buckeyes put the game away with less than five minutes to go on a TD run by Miyan Williams. That run capped a 95-yard drive that took more than seven minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter as Ohio State finally found a way to move the ball consistently on the Notre Dame defense.

Heading into Saturday night, the Buckeyes hadn’t scored 21 points or fewer in a game since scoring 20 in a 2018 loss to Iowa. Stroud finished the game with 223 yards and completed 24 of 34 attempts.

The offense’s lack of explosiveness throughout the game meant Ohio State had to rely on its defense. And as many Buckeyes fans would attest, that would have been a risky proposition over the last two years. But Ohio State’s first game under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was a success. Notre Dame’s conservative gameplan with QB Tyler Buchner found no holes in the Buckeye secondary and led to six straight punts after the touchdown drive.

Not a bad debut for Marcus Freeman’s Irish

The Irish entered Saturday’s game as 17-point underdogs. And while Notre Dame is far from a program where hanging around a top-five team is an accomplishment, there are certainly plenty of positives for Notre Dame fans to take away from Marcus Freeman’s debut as a coach.

The defense looks to be very good once again as they forced Stroud to look downfield early and often. Smith-Njigba’s absence likely helped, but it’s unlikely Notre Dame’s defensive game would have deviated too much had he played the entire game.

If there’s a concern, it’s been the inability to create a consistent game for Buchner to capitalize on through play-action. Notre Dame averaged less than three yards a carry and gained the majority of its yards on its two scoring drives. Notre Dame had 158 rushing yards leading to its 10 points and 95 yards on its other eight possessions.

Notre Dame’s competitiveness also means you can’t write the Irish out of the playoff conversation after Week 1. Yes, it’s too early to talk about the playoffs after the first weekend of the season, but if Ohio State is as good as we all expect it to be during the season and Notre Dame wins its games with a manageable schedule, the Irish could be 7-1 when they play Clemson on Nov. 5.

Ohio State, meanwhile, is now hoping Smith-Njigba’s injury isn’t too serious and faces games as heavy favorites at home against Arkansas State and Toledo before visiting Wisconsin on Sept. 24 in a possible preview of the Big Ten title game.

CJ Stroud threw two TD passes in Ohio State’s win over Notre Dame. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images)

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